Generalists will appreciate Conti-Brown’s gentle hand-holding, and specialists will argue over his analytical slant that...


An examination of the origins, evolution, structures, and functions of the American government’s most opaque institution.

This country’s argument over the wisdom, indeed the constitutionality, of a central bank is as old as Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson. Now, after 100 years of the Federal Reserve System, the Hamiltonians have won the debate, but confusion about the Fed’s role and unease with its extraordinary power persists. Indeed, groups as disparate as the tea party and Occupy Wall Street are prepared to abolish it. Conti-Brown (Legal Studies and Business Ethics/Univ. of Pennsylvania; co-editor: When States Go Broke: The Origins, Context, and Solutions for the American States in Fiscal Crisis, 2012) touches only lightly on the Fed’s controversial history and rejects radical reforms such as auditing the Fed or establishing a default monetary policy rule. He argues in favor of simplifying the Fed’s governance, reforming the Board of Governors and the Federal Reserve Banks, and making more of the professional staff subject to presidential appointment. These sensible proposals emerge organically after the author’s focused discussion of the Fed’s many missions and the various internal and external constituencies that shape its policy. Conti-Brown stresses two principal themes: that it’s not enough to look only at the Fed’s legal architecture to understand it properly and that assessing the institution through the lens of its vaunted “independence” is not analytically useful. It’s too much to say that the author humanizes the Fed, but he goes a long way toward demystifying it. A creature of statute, yes, but the Fed is also a product of political compromise shot through with features that can only be understood by knowing history, by understanding how law and personalities relate one to another, and by accepting that in a democracy, politics and ideology are rarely inseparable from any governmental enterprise.

Generalists will appreciate Conti-Brown’s gentle hand-holding, and specialists will argue over his analytical slant that dispenses with a narrow and legalistic view of what the Fed’s all about.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-691-16400-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Review Posted Online: Nov. 10, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2015

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Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...


A psychologist and Nobel Prize winner summarizes and synthesizes the recent decades of research on intuition and systematic thinking.

The author of several scholarly texts, Kahneman (Emeritus Psychology and Public Affairs/Princeton Univ.) now offers general readers not just the findings of psychological research but also a better understanding of how research questions arise and how scholars systematically frame and answer them. He begins with the distinction between System 1 and System 2 mental operations, the former referring to quick, automatic thought, the latter to more effortful, overt thinking. We rely heavily, writes, on System 1, resorting to the higher-energy System 2 only when we need or want to. Kahneman continually refers to System 2 as “lazy”: We don’t want to think rigorously about something. The author then explores the nuances of our two-system minds, showing how they perform in various situations. Psychological experiments have repeatedly revealed that our intuitions are generally wrong, that our assessments are based on biases and that our System 1 hates doubt and despises ambiguity. Kahneman largely avoids jargon; when he does use some (“heuristics,” for example), he argues that such terms really ought to join our everyday vocabulary. He reviews many fundamental concepts in psychology and statistics (regression to the mean, the narrative fallacy, the optimistic bias), showing how they relate to his overall concerns about how we think and why we make the decisions that we do. Some of the later chapters (dealing with risk-taking and statistics and probabilities) are denser than others (some readers may resent such demands on System 2!), but the passages that deal with the economic and political implications of the research are gripping.

Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our minds.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-27563-1

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.


Noted number cruncher Sperling delivers an economist’s rejoinder to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Former director of the National Economic Council in the administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, the author has long taken a view of the dismal science that takes economic justice fully into account. Alongside all the metrics and estimates and reckonings of GDP, inflation, and the supply curve, he holds the great goal of economic policy to be the advancement of human dignity, a concept intangible enough to chase the econometricians away. Growth, the sacred mantra of most economic policy, “should never be considered an appropriate ultimate end goal” for it, he counsels. Though 4% is the magic number for annual growth to be considered healthy, it is healthy only if everyone is getting the benefits and not just the ultrawealthy who are making away with the spoils today. Defining dignity, admits Sperling, can be a kind of “I know it when I see it” problem, but it does not exist where people are a paycheck away from homelessness; the fact, however, that people widely share a view of indignity suggests the “intuitive universality” of its opposite. That said, the author identifies three qualifications, one of them the “ability to meaningfully participate in the economy with respect, not domination and humiliation.” Though these latter terms are also essentially unquantifiable, Sperling holds that this respect—lack of abuse, in another phrasing—can be obtained through a tight labor market and monetary and fiscal policy that pushes for full employment. In other words, where management needs to come looking for workers, workers are likely to be better treated than when the opposite holds. In still other words, writes the author, dignity is in part a function of “ ‘take this job and shove it’ power,” which is a power worth fighting for.

A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7987-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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